Gay disco is a difficult genre to unpick at times. The gay disco scene flourished in the mid-to-late part of the 1970s during the coast-to-coast craze for disco music, which swept the US and then the world. The marketers of mainstream disco venues were always keen to hire in “a gay crowd” for a bit of glamour and credibility, but gay disco as a genre formed its roots in a select few ground breaking and exclusively GAY clubs in San Franciso, New York, and London, where the hedonistic excess of the newfound gay movement was soundtracked by a few DJing mavericks, eager to fuel the fire with euphoric, ambiguous and sometimes just plain filthy sounds.
Many of what would be considered the classic gay tracks are missing from the list, but I’ve selected what I feel are the best representations of some of the authentic sounds of the pre-80s disco era – many written or produced by gay artists. Some are well known, some maybe less so, but they are all unequivocally DISCO.
You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real) – Sylvester (1978)
The undisputed queen of the underground disco movement was the incredible Sylvester. Coming out as an artist had not been an issue for Sylvester; making his debut with psychedelic, gender-fluid San Francisco theatre troupe The Cockettes, quite frankly this golden voiced diva had never been in. You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real) was the first creative meeting of Sylvester and the then unknown Patrick Cowley. The resulting track, with its automated bassline and glistening arpeggios, was the exhilarating sound of the future, and would create not only the blueprint for the HI-NRG movement, but have a lasting influence on electronic dance music for the next three decades. In the early video promo created for the song there was no missing the fact that Sylvester was one flaming diva. That Mary was dressed to kill as we see her sashay a series of impeccably glamourous looks, all complemented with a flapping Chinese fan, and backed by hot disco busboys and strobing disco lights. Work it baby!
Love To Love You Baby – Donna Summer (1975)
Donna Summer first pricked up the ears of the disco faithful with this steamy 18 minute epic. Working with the slick German production duo Pete Bellott and Giorgio Moroder, Love To Love You Baby took the sensuous style of artists like Barry White and Issac Hayes and spun out the climaxes into a veritable erotic odyssey. It was all about the length. As well as being a massive international hit, this track struck a throbbing chord amongst the revellers pouring to the new meccas of Fire Island and San Francisco and began Summer’s elevation to a gay icon.
Born To Be Alive – Patrick Hernandez (1978)
Born To Be Alive was the perfect catchphrase for the carefree, sexually liberated atmosphere of 1978. French singer Patrick Hernadez channelled the restless hedonism of the disco scene: always moving, never settling down, and, crucially, in an era where newfound freedoms were being won, put his finger on how how many felt this freedom was a God-given right.
(Push Push) In The Bush – Musique (1978)
In the intense hothouse of the New York club scene it didn’t take long for the power of the new gay clubs to have a commercial pull on more traditional acts. The gay DJs were hungry for anything that had an outrageous angle; the more filth the better.
Established producer Patrick Adams created the group Musique, shut them in a recording studio for four hours, and delivered this euphemistic and propulsive paen to cruising for sex in the bushes and byways of Central Park. “Are you ready, are you ready for this? Do you like it, do you like it like this?” It became a massive club hit and, unsurprisingly, was banned from mainstream airplay once the cheeky meaning was discovered.
Superparadise – Romy Haag (1978)
Romy Haag was the toast of those who considered themselves THE most fashionable of the international celebs. Her club in Berlin was frequented regularly by the gay congnisenti, including Freddie Mercury. She dated Mick Jagger and David Bowie, and was in fact the reason Bowie moved to Berlin. In Germany she was huge star and quite unique. Romy was an open transsexual, a veritable glamazon, dazzlingly beautiful, with a booming teutonic voice, and here on her 1978 hit Superparadise she invites everyone (well, it’s more of an order) to “do the sex change with me”, while the flip side of the 12″ was a fantastic proto hi-NRG track called Hermaphrodite.
Kiss Me Again – Dinosaur L
Arther Russell was a minor player in the late 1970s New York scene, but the few records that he would make left a legacy which continues to exert a massive influence on contemporary music. His spare, minimalist productions, all stuttering guitars, terse tribal rhythms and synth stabs, were a seminal influence on new wave, post-punk and house. A gay musician and producer, Russell would work with the key players in the New York disco scene – DJ and producer Larry Levan (behind the Paradise Garage) and François Kevorkian, one of the key DJs in the evolution of house music. His Kiss Me Again debut was a massive club hit, and one the first singles to be released on Sire Records – who a few years later would release the first single by a little known club wannabe going by the name of Madonna…
Hushpuppy, October 2010